Mula Bandha: The OG Kegels (and other times yoga knew what was up)

Kegels, a collection of exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor, are #trending. Yogis might say we told you so (it's called mula bandha!) but they're just too darn humble #imsohumble.

Outside of yoga, kegels are a group of sexercises used to help manage urinary incontinence, premature ejaculation, and to both prepare for and recover from pregnancy. And there's more! Cosmopolitan Magazine claims kegel exercises will make your orgasms more powerful, and for women "er, 'grip' even tighter."

But like many scientific elixirs to surface over the past few decades, kegels are old news for students of yoga. Yogis have been practicing the kegel-equivalent mula bandha, Sanskrit for "root lock," for thousands of years. I'd like to think that means they've also been having better sex for thousands of years, but yoga also places a high value on brahmacharya (continence) (meh.)

I'm no purist when it comes to ancient wisdom.

Now I'm no purist when it comes to ancient wisdom. If Steve Jobs had relied on scientifically proven medical cures to treat his pancreatic cancer rather than spending nine months delaying surgery to toy around with visits to spiritualists and acupuncturists then he might still be here. And I'm still not convinced doing a headstand is good for you, either.

But more often than not I have found that the teachings of sages like the Buddha and Patanjali on how to live a long, happy and healthy life are becoming increasingly vindicated by western science. Take meditation, for example. It wasn't until the 90s that academics cemented the strong correlation between turmoil in the mind and physical ailments — stress is linked to five of six leading causes of death and responsible for more than 75 percent of physician office visits — but yogis have maintained for millennia that a troubled mind brings the body down with it.

Mula bandha is another prime example. Many systems of yoga view the body as a container. Through yogic practices such as asana (poses) and meditation, practitioners transform energy within their bodies. But if the container is not sealed, then the energy leaks out, draining the effects of the practice. Along with its allies uddiyana bandha (navel lock) and jalandhara bandha (throat lock), the bandhas are responsible for retaining the energy/prana generated through yoga.

Mula bandha is particularly revered because it is the foundation of the system. B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the most prominent yoga teachers in history, bluntly describes the activation of the root lock in his 1976 book Light on Yoga:

A posture where the body from the anus to the navel is contracted and lifted up and towards the spine.

That's pretty much the same description you would find on any medical website. The difference today is that the popular advice from sex and health experts on how to strengthen the perineum, the region between your poo-hole and urogenital area, is to start and stop the flow of urine. That technique will certainly help strengthen your pelvic floor, but making it a habit puts you at a higher risk for a UTI.

Yoga, on the other hand, offers a more mindful mode of practice that doesn't involve pissing. Instead, it involves acquainting yourself with the subtle muscles of the pelvis, practicing contractions in conjunction with breathwork, and eventually learning how to maintain a lift of the pelvic floor throughout your practice and beyond.

The interwebs offers dozens of yogic guides on how to accomplish this feat, and there's a plethora of articles on how mula bandha works within the chakra system and aides in your spiritual development, just waiting for you to click on them. 

I won't bother to regurgitate that information. I will say that continued practice of mula bandha will dramatically change your experience on the mat. It's incredibly useful for stabilization and balance in almost any pose, particularly in balancing asanas, inversions, and symmetrical poses.

Speaking from experience, the pelvic region is ignored at your own peril. Familiarizing yourself with the root lock, on the other hand, will help solidify your foundation in nearly every pose and create a safe space for spinal movement — mula bandha is said to move prana into the sushumna, AKA the spine.

In utkatasana (chair pose) mula bandha can help you establish a neutral position of the pelvis and avoid an over tuck of the tailbone, allowing your spine to maintain its natural curvature,

In virabhadrasana II (warrior II), mula bandha can help keep the spine straight and hip points level (how they should be) and prevent the front waist from compressing too far into the front femur bone. 

The list goes on...

In sum if you want to practice yoga more safely, improve your alignment and increase your stability, consider learning about the root lock and applying it to your practice as much as you can.

Note that the experience may feel awkward or uncomfortable at first, but don't let that discourage you. Figuring out mula bandha is a matter of daily practice and can take many years to master.

Or if you just want better sex, search "kegels" on Google.

 

Cover photo via Jaisiyaram